Cycling the (inner) ring road

If you drive in Norwich you’ll be familiar with the inner ring road, but what’s it like to cycle on? Peter Silburn attempts to find out

Most people probably don’t think of the inner ring road when they think of cycling in Norwich. It’s a barrier to cycling in that it’s difficult to cross it to reach the city centre and it’s neither a safe nor a pleasant road to cycle on.

But just how practical is it to cycle around the inner ring road? What cycle infrastructure is there to protect you from motor traffic? Would it even be possible to follow the route? I set off on my bike to find out.

The point of a ring road (regardless of your means of transport) is of course not that you go all the way around but that you use bits of it to connect up with other routes to get you where you want to go.

Cycle path on St Crispins Road (the nice bit)

The Pedalways cycle network has its own inner ring, the Orange Pedalway but it’s further out from the city centre and follows a route dictated by avoiding as much as possible busy roads rather than following the route where you actually want to go. If the ring road is useful for drivers then if follows that it’s probably a useful route for cyclists as well.

When we talk of the inner ring road we need to bear in mind it has two distinct sections. The western section from St Crispins Road to Queens Road is the familiar dual carriageway with roundabouts beloved of 1960s town planners. The eastern section however still forces its way down streets that were never intended to deal with this amount of traffic – and for good measure part of it also doubles as the outer ring road.

There is very little actual cycle infrastructure in the form of cycle tracks or even shared–use pavements on the ring road but it is possible to ride it if you use a little ingenuity.

Pavement cycling

It’s always instructive to observe how and where people cycle. Although not primarily designed with cycling in mind, people are clearly using the inner ring road to get about and it’s no surprise – given the dangers of riding in the road – to see some people cycling on the pavement in places.

Cycling on the pavement isn’t ideal for anyone. The proper solution of course is separate space for people on foot and on bikes. However, there are a lot of shared-use cycle paths in Norwich, much of which is effectively legalised cycling on the pavement.

Indeed, guidance from Home Office Minister Paul Boateng in 1998 (re-affirmed by Transport Minister Robert Goodwill in 2014) is that no one should be prosecuted for cycling on the pavement if they feel unsafe cycling on the road and show due consideration for pedestrians.

Where no protected space for cycling is provided some people will choose to cycle on the pavement, not because they are unruly yobs but because they want to get from A to B without being killed. If you see someone cycling on the pavement it’s usually a sign that there is no safe cycle infrastructure.

Until such time as we get a proper network of connected high quality cycle paths, cycling in Norwich is going to involve a degree of cycling on the pavement, whether on designated cycle paths or otherwise.

The route

Starting at the Brazen Gate junction on the Yellow Pedalway (next to Sainsbury’s) I travelled anticlockwise along Queens Road. By travelling anticlockwise you’re on the easier “inside” of the ring road. Cycling clockwise involves multiple unprotected right turns at junctions and is not recommended.

Queens Road is four lanes wide (five if you count the turning lane in the middle) and – even when fairly quiet – is not an inviting road to cycle on.

Queens Road, four (and a bit) lanes wide but clearly no space for cycling

At the junction with Ber Street we join Bracondale which is a delightful street with lots of interesting houses and mature trees but with the almost constant stream of traffic it’s not a safe or attractive road to cycle on. At the traffic lights turn left into King Street which leads down to the Carrow Bridge.

Bracondale – wide road with a wide pavement, but again no space for cycling

This section of King Street not only forms part of the Purple Pedalway but is part of National Cycle Route 1 which itself forms part of the international EuroVelo 12 North Sea Cycle Route. Hardly a warm welcome for foreign touring cyclists arriving in the city.

King Street – National Cycle Route 1 no less

Although the ring road follows Carrow Road and Koblenz Avenue past the football stadium I instead opted to turn left immediately after crossing the Carrow Bridge and joined the delightful riverside shared-use path along the eastern bank of the River Wensum, passing under both the Novi Sad bridge and the Lady Julian bridge (which carries the Orange Pedalway).

The shared-use path alongside the River Wensum

As the path approaches the Foundry Bridge there’s an “End of cycle route” sign and you’ll need to bear right, back up to the ring road. Either follow the road across the Prince of Wales Road/Thorpe Road junction or dismount and walk along the pavement to the pedestrian crossing.

Once across the junction follow Riverside Road past Bishop’s Bridge (where the road becomes Bishop Bridge Road) to reach the Ketts Hill roundabout. Riverside Road can be an intimidating road to cycle on. The row of parked cars means it’s just not wide enough for drivers to overtake so aggressive ones can be snapping at your heels.

Riverside Road – not an attractive place for cycling

At the Ketts Hill roundabout turn left into Barrack Street. Just before the Toucan crossing on Barrack Street where the Pink Pedalway crosses from the right you can join the pavement cycle track which continues across the entrance to Gilders Way and then mysteriously stops by a traffic island. The traffic here is fast and close so unsurprisingly you’ll see people continue to ride along the pavement, past the new St James Quay development to the Whitefriars roundabout.

Barrack Street – a strange place to end a cycle path

The developers of St James Quay have followed the near ubiquitous practice of using extensive imagery of everyday cycling in promoting the lifestyle they think new homebuyers aspire to. If they truly wanted to enable their new residents to take up cycling perhaps they could build a protected cycleway along Barrack Street?

St James Quay – cycling and walking sells homes in the city centre (image: St James Quay)

Once across the Whitefriars roundabout you’d be wise to give the flyover a miss and instead take the path on the left going down to street level, making your way across the car park and then crossing Magdalen Street to join the cycle path alongside the flyover.

You wouldn’t want to cycle there either – the Magdalen Street flyover

Take care crossing Calvert Street, cars turn in quickly and the sightline is poor. Stay on the cycle path alongside St Crispins Road, crossing Duke Street and follow the path all the way to the Barn Road roundabout where you cross the Red Pedalway that leads to the start of the Marriotts Way.

Cycle path on St Crispins Road (the not very nice bit)

Go over the bridge across the River Wensum and turn left at the roundabout into Barn Road. We’re back to the 1960s with a dual carraigeway and a wide pavement but no cycle path.

Barn Road – cycle path needed here

Once you’ve passed the entrance to Westwick Street you’ll begin to see parts of the old city wall as you approach the St Benedicts Street/Dereham Road junction. Cross St Benedicts Street and go up Wellington Lane, a surprisingly steep one-way street that takes you up to the Grapes Hill roundabout. Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t any hills in Norwich!

When you reach the base of the footbridge over Grapes Hill you’ll need to dismount and work your way through to Upper St Giles Street. Cross the end of the street and carry along the path to the roundabout until you reach Cleveland Road which you need to cross to get to Chapelfield North. It’s a little unclear which bits of pavement are designated cycle path but just take care and be prepared to stop if necessary.

Grapes Hill footbridge – surely a path can be found through here?

Cross Chapelfield North and enter Chapelfield Gardens, bear right and follow the path alongside the ring road to the far corner by the entrance to the Chantry Place car park. Go along Coburg Street (you’ve joined the Blue Pedalway here) and where the Blue Pedalway turns right to cross the ring road carry straight on until you reach the St Stephens roundabout by Wilko. Cross St Stephens Street (bonus points for using the underpass!) and carry along Queens Road until you reach All Saints Green where our journey started.

Considerate cycling permitted – a sensible approach

Future schemes and easy wins

Being able to cycle safely around the inner ring road doesn’t seem too much to ask for.

The western dual carriageway section paradoxically does have some cycle infrastructure, in the form of the (admittedly rather poor) cycle tracks along St Crispins Road. It’s on the eastern section where there is the greatest need for (but also the greatest lack of) separation from motor traffic.

Rather than continuing to accommodate increasing amounts of motor traffic through the city centre (whilst trying to squeeze in cycling around the edges) we should be addressing the problem at its source by reducing the amount of car traffic.

Any future transport schemes need to address this, perhaps by creating a largely car-free city centre along the lines of cities like Groningen in the Netherlands and Ghent in Belgium. At the current rate of progress it will be some time before this happens so in the meantime we are going to have to manage competing demands on road space.

New cycle infrastructure should be built to the current design standards (known as LTN 1/20) with its common sense principles of ensuring routes are continuous, built to cater for large numbers of cyclists (and those on non-standard bikes) and avoiding mixing pedestrians and cyclists.

But are there “easy wins” which, whilst not fully complying with these standards bring benefits in the meantime?

Parts of the ring road could be made accessible to cycling with very little effort. The pavement on the southern side of Barrack Street between St James Quay and Gilders Place is crying out to be made a shared-use path and would complete the gap in the cycle path here whilst providing a useful connection where there is no nearby alternative route.

There are several sections where paths are sufficiently wide to accommodate cyclists and could be made shared use. The path down from the Whitefriars roundabout to Magdalen Street is an obvious one and the eastern side of Barn Road could also usefully be made shared use.

The path down to street level from the Magdalen Street flyover

At a time when we need to be reducing traffic going through the city does Queens Road really need to be four lanes wide? There’s plenty of space for cycle lanes here.

Creating an easy way through at the base of the Grapes Hill footbridge would open up a useful cycling link between Upper St Giles Street and Wellington Lane. The crossing at the top of Cleveland Road needs to incorporate a parallel crossing for cyclists.

It’s always a dilemma: do we accept the technically substandard (if it brings tangible benefits) in the short term or do we hold out until we can get the best?

All photos by Peter Silburn


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